Wheeling Man Retires Antique Gas Engine Collection

Mark Mc Clemming

Catherine Stortz

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the Constitution-Tribune, American Publishing, Chillicothe, Missouri, where it originally appeared in the July 16, 1998 edition. Catherine Stortz, News Editor, is author and photographer.

Mark Mc Clemming knew exactly what he wanted, and he knew exactly where to get it.

That's why he made a 350-mile trip from his home in northern Illinois to Wheeling, where Lloyd Coleman, 88, lives.

What Mc Clemming wanted was part of Coleman's collection of 37 antique gas engines being auctioned that Saturday.

'I came Friday night,' said Mc Clemming, a collector owning about 25 antique gas engines. 'I was only after one engine that would complete my set and I was ready to turn around and go home if it wasn't what I wanted.'

Mc Clemming, like the buyers attending the auction, found out about the sale through advertisements, including a national gas engine magazine. While some people might not walk across the street to look at an antique gas engine, that Saturday's sale attracted enthusiasts who didn't think twice about traveling great distances. In addition to Missouri and Illinois, those attending came from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma.

'The locals aren't interested in stuff like this,' Mc Clemming said.

Although from Illinois, Mc Clemming wasn't a complete stranger at the auction. That is, he knew several others who traveled about as far as he did to submit a bid, including an acquaintance from Illinois.

'We could have shared a ride if I had known he was coming,' Mc Clemming said the day of the sale. 'There are quite a few familiar faces here.' But, that's not unusual, he said.

Saturday's sale was a first for Mike Miller. He's been auctioneering for 24 years and said he has never sold as many antique gas engines at a single sale as he did that day. Most of the engines sold for between $400 and $700, Miller said. The highest bid was $ 1,500 on a Witte.

Coleman Is a Collector

Coleman, who was born just south of Wheeling and lived nearly all his life there, started his collection when he retired his own gas engines.

'It used to be that every farmer had one or two of them,' he said. 'They used them to pump water and saw wood. They used them for everything.'

At the turn of the century there were about 2,000 companies making gas engines. But, that changed when rural electricity reached farms in the mid-19305.

'That did away with the engines and they were sold for junk,' Coleman recalled.

Coleman has spent most his life drilling wells in three or four counties, learning the trade from his father. Even as a young boy while still in school, Coleman worked the summer months with his father drilling wells.

The few years he wasn't in Wheeling, he was working during World War II at North American Bombers in Kansas City and at a power plant.

Collecting gas engines developed into a hobby for Coleman.

'I just like them,' he said, admitting that all of them are his favorites.

His oldest engine that sold at the auction was a 1908 Model Detroit, 2 HP on a cart.

Coleman now spends his time between his home in Wheeling and in Smithville.

Although Mc Clemming has been a collector for only about the last four years, he doesn't waste time in searching out opportunities to add to his collection, which is at about 25. He once traveled nearly 1,000 miles to check out a sale in Sturgess, South Dakota.

'It is interesting to see what something sells for in different parts of the country,' he said.